CHESTER, Pa. – It took more than three weeks, but Rais Mbolhi finally made his MLS debut.
And although he didn’t need to do much, the Algerian goalkeeper still made his presence felt in helping the Philadelphia Union pick up an important 4-2 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday night.
“I’m really happy to see this atmosphere and the fans,” Mbolhi said after the game. “And we won the three points, so I’m really happy today.”
Despite being on the roster since July 30, it didn’t look like Mbolhi would start Sunday’s game with interim manager Jim Curtin saying earlier in the week that he would likely turn to Zac MacMath. The reason for that, Curtin had said, was because Mbolhi missed two practices due to a minor car accident in France, which came on the heels of the two-time World Cup veteran only finally resolving his visa issues.
But after he had what Curtin called “a good, sharp day at training” leading up to Sunday’s game, he made the decision Saturday to unveil the franchise’s prized summer transfer window signing.
“It was kind of down to the wire,” Curtin said. “He looked me in the eye and said he wanted to play. That’s enough for me.”
Mbolhi told a different story, saying that getting ready mentally was “really difficult” but that the team “told me that I had to play tonight.”
Either way, finally stepping onto the field felt good for him after so many delays.
“I thought it was only going to take a few days,” Mbolhi said. “I wasn’t expecting it to take that long.”
Mbolhi, who led Algeria into the knockout round of the World Cup earlier this summer, only needed to make two saves. But Curtin called the first one – on San Jose star Chris Wondolowski – a “really tough save” in traffic “that kept us going.”
The Algerian also commanded the box well, and there was probably little he could do on the Earthquakes’ two goals – especially the first one on a perfectly hit ball from Sam Cronin.
“He’s a world-class goalkeeper,” Curtin said. “He had a very good debut – the first of many wins.”
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Mbolhi will end up missing more time over the last two months of the regular season due to his commitment to the Algerian national team for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
But when he does play, the Union are comfortable with the leadership their new goalkeeper brings to the table.
“He’s a presence,” midfielder Michael Lahoud said. “It’s always different when you have a new goalie. You never know what to expect. But he did the job.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.